Sainsbury's Self-Scanning Checkout...
I pop into Sainsbury's every morning on the way to work for precisely the 90 seconds it takes me to pick up my Be-Good-To-Yourself-bacon-and-tomato-cheese-and-onion-roast-chicken-sandwich-next-please!-(smile)-hello-(scan)-(beep)-that'll-be-£2-do-you-have-a-nectar-card?-thank-you-receipt-in-the-bag?-have-a-nice-day-(smile)-next-please!
Well, last week a strange thing happened. The usual smiling checkout-guy-who-sees-me-coming-a-mile-off wasn't at his usual station. He was standing in front of two new checkout aisles with what can only be described as a throbbing bank of technology behind him. He beckoned me forward and ushered me in front of the new machine with a few calming words. "Give it try", he suggested. I stood and took it all in. The self-scanning machines are not too dissimilar to the automated ticket machines at tube stations. Big as a meaty sized photocopier it looked like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'll admit was a little disorientating to be faced with so many slots and screens and trays and bags and speakers and all manner of distracting flashing lights. But, hey, I'm not afraid of technology. Am I?
A Star Trek type female computer welcomed me with a rather too loud, "WELCOME!" The LCD touch panel flashed a similarly pleasant message. "TOUCH THE SCREEN!", the voice said. I did. And thereby started the process from which it was hard to escape. You get issued with a series of instructions. "INSERT NECTAR CARD!" I did. "INVALID CARD! PLEASE INSERT NECTAR CARD!" Opps! Wrong way round. I tried again. Good. "SCAN YOUR ITEMS AND PLACE YOUR ITEMS IN BAGGING AREA!" You scan everything yourself and put them in a pre-opened plastic bag in the 'bagging area'. The bagging area is basically a hanger with some plastic bags on it that has some electronic scales built in. The machine compares what you scan with how much it reckons it should weigh - fine for heavy things I guess like a bag of potatoes but hard for light things like sweets.
My sandwich scanned fine but then disaster struck. "ITEM NOT RECOGNISED! PLEASE REMOVE ITEM FROM BAGGING AREA!" Oh God, it's only a packet of mints. Too light for the machine to register. I tried again. "ITEM NOT RECOGNISED! PLEASE REMOVE ITEM FROM BAGGING AREA!" I look around. My friendly checkout guy is helping another poor soul struggling with the other self-scanner. I tired once more. "ITEM NOT RECOGNISED! PLEASE REMOVE ITEM FROM BAGGING AREA!" I'm stuck. The machine won't let me continue until it's weighed my mints correctly. So feeling frustrated I push my thumb down on the scales as hard as I can. "WARNING!", it screeches at me. "BAGGING AREA OVERLOADED!" "SEEK ASSISTANCE!" I seeked alright. I grabbed my items and headed for a proper checkout.
90 seconds later I was out of there and heading for work. Not a good start.
Subsequently I've been back and had more success with the self-scanners. But it's more of a relief when it works rather than anything else. You just expect it to fail. And it's no quicker than using a human checkout. And you don't get a smile. Which is why I used to go to my checkout-guy-who-sees-me-coming-a-mile-off in the first place.